The best horse saddle pad for summer

Bryony Gilbey

Sheepskin acts as a natural insulator by trapping air between its fibers, keeping the horse cooler in hot weather.

Which horse saddle pad is best for summer?

Horses, like humans, have sweat glands throughout their bodies and sweat to regulate their body temperature. As sweat evaporates, it absorbs heat from the horse’s skin, cooling them down. When the weather is hot and humid, sweat doesn’t evaporate as quickly and horses can suffer from heat stress, or worse, heat stroke, if precautions aren’t taken.

In periods of intense heat and humidity, the ASPCA says it’s essential to provide your horse with plenty of fresh water, minerals and access to adequate shade and limit exercise during the hottest parts of the day. Using an appropriate saddle pad can also help your horse keep cool, ensuring a comfortable ride for both of you.

What is a saddle pad?

The saddle pad has two main uses: it protects the saddle from the horse, absorbing sweat and dirt from the horse’s hair and skin; and it also protects your horse from the saddle, by preventing the saddle from slipping during riding (which can cause painful chafing on the horse’s back) and by functioning as a shock absorber.

The saddle pad you choose will depend on your horse’s physique and the type of riding you’ll be doing. Western saddles, for example, require extra support and padding to help distribute and absorb pressure because they have no padding. English saddles do have some built-in padding, but still require an all-purpose pad. Dressage saddles have longer flaps, so you’ll need a pad that accommodates these, as well as one that is made of shock-absorbing material to lessen the impact of quick maneuvers and hard stops.

The United States Dressage Federation recommends considering the following factors when deciding what pad to use in hotter temperatures.

Pad shape and size

Most riders use a rectangular saddle pad because they are cheaper. The problem with rectangular pads is that they cover a large surface area. Horses lose 65-70% of body heat just through sweating, but if the heat is trapped under the pad, the horse only loses fluids and electrolytes. The American Association of Equine Practitioners  warns that this is especially a problem for horses with anhidrosis, a compromised ability to sweat. Generally, it’s safer to use a saddle-shaped pad in hotter temperatures.

Pad material

Although wearing a saddle in and of itself will hamper the horse’s ability to thermoregulate, the fabric of the pad is crucial to the cool-down process.


Fleece, whether natural wool or synthetic, is one of the most common materials used in saddle pads. Natural fibers are absorbent and breathable and are generally better than synthetics at wicking away moisture and absorbing heat. Wool pads are usually made of sheepskin, which has a natural loft. Loft promotes even air flow and distribution of pressure on the horse’s back. Sheepskin also acts as a natural insulator by trapping air between its fibers, which keeps the horse warm in cold temperatures, and cool when the weather is hot, wicking away sweat.

Synthetic fleece isn’t as efficient at regulating a horse’s temperature but is much less expensive and easier to clean. Wool/synthetic blends are a good compromise option.


The selling point of a felt saddle pad is the material’s ability to wick sweat away from the horse, which allows heat to dissipate. Felt is similar to fleece in that it cushions, breathes and wicks moisture away. It doesn’t breathe as well as fleece because its fibers are densely compacted, but its thickness and cushioning make it the most common choice for use with western saddles.

Felt, too, comes in pure wool form — the most expensive — and a wool/synthetic blend, but natural fibers tend to be gentler on your horse and can last a long time with the proper care, so it’s worth the investment.


Neoprene pads usually feature a waffle-weave bottom, which manufacturers claim promotes airflow and breathability. They also provide good cushioning and reduce saddle slippage for short rides, but Neoprene is cellular rubber so leaving it on your horse for an extended period builds heat and moisture, regardless of the waffle weave.


Foam saddle pads are also fairly common and are useful for absorbing shock, but do not have wicking abilities.


Gel pads are heavier and more expensive than foam, but the liquid gel allows them to return to their original shape (foam pads become conformed). This is useful if you are working multiple horses. Gel pads cushion well and mostly retain their shape but, like foam-filled pads, tend to trap heat.

The bottom line, says Dr. Joyce Harman, D.V. M., is that the only true method of cooling is by using a pad material that will wick, like wool or cotton, and wool is the winner between the two. It absorbs up to three times its weight in water and has compression protection six times that of cotton.

How to clean your saddle pad

If you take care of them, saddle pads can last for a long time, making that initial investment worth it. Because your horse will sweat more in the summer, it is recommended to brush and wash your saddle pads frequently. Cleaning saddle pads helps to protect your leather saddle from the salty residue left by sweat, and it also restores your pads’ loft, creating a comfortable, hygienic barrier for your horse's back.

Generally, sheepskin is not suited to machine washing and may shrink or become irreversibly felted. You can get sheepskin pads dry cleaned or dip them in cold water, then air dry them out of direct heat or sunlight. Products like Woolite are specially formulated for washing wool or felt. Between washings, gentle brushing will remove hair and dirt and restore the fibers’ natural loft.

Most other materials are machine washable. Remove all gel or foam inserts beforehand and be sure to follow the manufacturer’s care instructions. When in doubt, wash with cold water and air dry.

Bryony Gilbey is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money.

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